Greetings again from the darkness. The emotional strain associated with being estranged from one’s family reaches a level only those involved can comprehend. In this touching film from writer-director Andrea Pallaoro and co-writer Orlando Tirado, we focus on the return and attempted re-connection of one such person.
The first 15 minutes of the film move at an excruciatingly slow pace, as we get a feel for Monica’s (Trace Lysette, “Transparent”, HUSTLERS 2019) everyday struggles. It appears there is no joy in her life as relationships unravel, and she attempts to find her way. A phone call notifies of her mother’s deteriorating health due to a brain tumor. The news draws Monica back home for the first time since she left years ago. Greeted with a hug from her sister-in-law Laura (Emily Browning, SUCKER PUNCH 2011), Monica meets her nieces and nephews for the first time. A reunion with brother Paul (Joshua Close) is initially quite awkward. The siblings do get their moment a bit later, although it’s when Monica is by her mother’s side that the film excels.
Patricia Clarkson plays Eugenia, a woman whose brain tumor is wreaking havoc not just on her physical presence, but also her emotions. At times, she’s merely a child calling for her own mother, while at other times, she’s hard-headed and demanding that she can take care of herself … this despite the constant attention from her caregiver, Letta (Adriana Barraza, BABEL 2006). She doesn’t appear to recognize Monica, and a running theme is, “Are you going to tell her?” We feel Monica’s pain as she attempts to find solace in merely being close to her mother, but it’s in the bathtub scene where Clarkson’s incredible talent shines through, and the many webs of deceit and uncertainty reach a conclusion.
Lysette’s performance as Monica captures the vulnerability that allows the film to work. Is she isolated or trapped … or is it both? It’s a role that takes 45 minutes of screen time before she’s allowed a smile, though her Cocteau Twins t-shirt is appreciated. Pallaoro’s approach here is restrained (an understatement), and he gives up backstory hesitantly, and in small doses and hints. No scene is overrun with dialogue. Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi uses close-ups effectively to convey the emotional strain and unseen barriers to closeness. The result is a strong family drama on relationships, decisions, acceptance/rejection, and health issues.
Greetings again from the darkness. I am actually a fan of director Zack Snyder‘s two most recent films: 300 and Watchmen. Because of those films, I was really looking forward to what he would do with his first original piece. Two things are now very clear. First, Mr. Snyder is a visual virtuoso with film. Secondly, he is not much of a writer.
I’ll start with the bad news. I was stunned at how lousy the story and script were. Some of the dialogue is so bad it comes across as purposefully dumbed down. If that is the intention, then I must ask WHY? It’s clearly not a movie for little kids, so most over aged 13 are quite capable of following a story. Therein lies the biggest problem. There isn’t even a story! The ending makes absolutely no sense and the road to that ending just makes you happy it’s over … no matter the dumb ending.
The good news is that Mr. Snyder’s visual effects do not disappoint. There are some terrific battle scenes and one of the coolest on screen dragons you’ll ever see. The film is very dark and muted in colors (think Sin City) but that works for the dream sequences and the asylum interiors. Very little color is present other than just before the dance sequences. Speaking of, what’s with the dance sequences? If Baby Doll’s dancing is the key to the film, shouldn’t we get more than just a head-bob?
The premise is that Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is cast away to an asylum by her step-father. She has five days to escape or she faces a lobotomy. Yes, really. She quickly discovers that her dancing has a mesmerizing effect on all those watching and she can escape into her fantasy world. While there, she meets a Wise Man played by Scott Glenn in a role that would have been perfect for the late David Carradine. The Wise Man tells her what to do to gain her freedom and she quickly enlists the help of some other inmates: Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens)and Amber (Jamie Chung).
The asylum has an even darker side as run by Blue (Oscar Isaac). He forces Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to teach the girls to dance so as to entertain “high rollers” who pay big bucks to Blue to spend time with the girls. Gugino plays her character like a rip-off of Natasha Fatale from the old Bullwinkle cartoons. Blue is just a weaselly bad guy who brings nothing to the film … and this film needed a top notch bad guy.
The actresses all seem like they really are into their roles and enjoy the physicality required for the fighting and action scenes. Cornish especially comes off well. Browning in the lead as Baby Doll brings no real baggage to the role as most won’t recognize her. Jena Malone has been an indie film favorite for years and Ms. Hudgens is trying to find a new audience after the High School Musical films.
This movie was pitched as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”. I believe that is a slap to the face of Lewis Carroll. Watching this movie is like watching someone else play a video game … or a two hour music video of a terrible song. So if you must see it, enjoy the visual effects and don’t think too much about what the characters say or why they do what they do. And let’s all hope that Mr. Snyder’s visuals payoff for next year’s Superman movie … and be glad that Christopher Nolan is working on that script!
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you live for special effects and video games on the big screen OR you want to see a really cool dragon fly around for about 3 minutes.
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: non-sensical dialogue and a junior high script cause you to scream obsenities (it’s not worth getting arrested)